Knocking Out the Beliefs That Hold You Back

A college professor once told my journalism class that freelance writing is something you should do on the side. It's not anything you could make a living at full-time. 

I graduated and worked at an office job until I decided I wanted to become self-employed and do something that would give me more free time to write. A real job and a writer on the side, just like the professor had suggested. I went into real estate.

To say it was an awful fit would be an understatement. The very thought of cold-calling made me want to stay in bed with the covers over my head. What's worse is that I wrote a total of one article that year. What in the world happened?

“Freelance writing can't be a successful business.” That was my limiting belief. (To be fair, it was a belief I held long before the well-meaning professor reinforced it.) So I took a full-time job as an editor, and on the side I'd write maybe one or two magazine articles a year. I didn't believe I could have a thriving freelance business, so I didn't even try.

One small step
Early this year, I made the decision to put more effort into my freelance writing. Not too long after, J.D. mentioned that he was going to hire one or two staff writers. It sounded like a great opportunity, but I was scared to death to send the e-mail just asking to try out. What if I wasn't selected? Even scarier was the possibility that I might get the job. What if I ran out of stuff to write? Freelance writing can't be a successful business!

Soon after getting the staff writing gig, I picked up another writing client who found me through GRS. It was a breakthrough. I've since added two more projects to the list. I was actively pursuing and attaining everything I passively dreamt about for years. I took one tiny step that scared the hell out of me, and it snowballed.

Separating from limiting beliefs
My limiting belief shrinks every day because I'm slowly proving it wrong.

The funny thing is that once you stop identifying with a limiting belief, you start to recognize them everywhere. There was the well-meaning friend who thought writing the GRS try-out articles without being paid for them was a bad idea (when in fact it insanely boosted my business in less than a month). There are the people who stay in jobs they hate because they have a kid in college. There are the ones who say they have no time for a side business, or so-and-so only did it because they had money or the right contacts (Ramit calls this The Shrug Effect). I empathize with their reasons because I did the same thing for years.

No matter what your limiting beliefs, the steps to knock them out are the same. I only realized it in retrospect, of course, but the steps I took to grow my freelance business aren't much different than the steps I took to overcome some of my other limiting beliefs, such as:

  • Only people who are rich can travel to Europe.
  • Getting into a boxing ring will end with a trip to the ER.
  • I'll see a shark if I scuba dive, and I'll panic and die.

Round one: Set the intention
Thoughts have a significant effect on reality. Truthfully, this has always sounded like new-agey stuff to me, and I agreed wholeheartedly with J.D.'s review of The Secret.

But what I'm talking about is clearly defining an intention or goal and writing it down. I set the intention to expand my freelance business this year. No, it didn't happen magically and without any effort on my behalf. I did the work, but first I had to be clear about what I was setting out to do, and I had to believe that I could do it. As I progress, I distance myself more and more from the limiting beliefs that held me back. 

Round two: Find mentors who are already doing what you want to do
Some of the most helpful, friendly people I know are people I've “met” online. I have a mentor in Canada who I have never met in person, yet she's willing to take time out of her schedule to talk with me over the phone. She is making a living doing something that several people have told me is hard or impossible to do. I choose not to listen to them. I choose to hear how she is already doing this impossible thing.

Mentors also keep you positive. If you are feeling stuck or uninspired, contact one of your mentors to ask a question or reread an inspiring e-mail they sent. Block out the noise.

Round three: Ignore others' encroaching limiting beliefs
It's easy to be discouraged by other people's limiting beliefs. Maybe you know someone who loves to tell others why something can't or shouldn't be done. If it's legitimate constructive criticism, by all means, don't dismiss it. But you can recognize limiting beliefs pretty easily, especially if you used to be the one coming up with them. Just smile and move along.

Or, use it as fuel. Sometimes nothing gets me more fired up than hearing the reasons I can't do something. (Especially if that reason is because I am a female!)

Finally, keep a Word document with positive statements people have made. It's cheesy, but consider this: How many times do we remember the nice or positive things people say to us or about us? Most people fixate on the negative, and that's what they remember. You probably can recall dozens of awful moments all the way back to kindergarten, but do you remember the professor who told you you have a talent for writing profiles or the editor who said you wrote a killer article? Write down the good stuff, and read it when you need a pep talk.

Round four: Make a move.
Do something small to get the ball rolling, even if you think you will fail, cancel, or back out later:

  • One e-mail to rev up a freelance business.
  • A $400 deposit on a trip to Europe.
  • Weeks of training in the boxing gym on heavy bags and focus mitts.
  • Reserve a class at a dive shop.

Once you light the fire, it'll be harder to put the brakes on.

I can still list limiting beliefs I'm holding, and I'm sure there will be many more in my future. The solutions to overcoming these fears start with a desire to take action. What limiting beliefs do you hold? How are you working to overcome them?

J.D.'s note: For more on this subject, check out my advice on how to fight financial trolls.

More about...Psychology

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Rob Bennett
Rob Bennett
10 years ago

I agree with the point being made in the blog entry. And I’ve lived it on more than one occasion. I also think that we need to be careful not to dismiss whatever it is inside us that causes us to form beliefs that “hold us back.” That thing inside us is there for a reason. It is our friend. We just need to be careful not to make it our only friend. We all have a voice within us that says “Go for it!” and a voice within us that says “Be careful!” It’s like having a mother and… Read more »

Sam
Sam
10 years ago

I’m not a fan of the Secret or the pray to get rich churches, but I agree that fear can hold one back from reaching certain goals, including financial goals. If you ask people who are in serious debt how much debt they are carrying, most don’t know, it is too scary to actually add up the numbers. When we combined finances, after we got married, and we decided to work Dave Ramsey’s total money makeover, just tracking down all the bills to figure out how much Mr. Sam and I owed, what the terms were, the interest rate, etc.… Read more »

bon
bon
10 years ago

my limiting belief is that I’m too indecisive (I’m a “maximizer”) and so as much as I desperately want to start my own business — I can’t decide what kind of business to start… I have tons of “good” ideas but keep waiting for the “best” idea to come into my head.

Beth @ Smart Family Tips
Beth @ Smart Family Tips
10 years ago

I’m working on overcoming the belief that it is completely foolish and irresponsible to leave a full-time job (that I don’t enjoy) in this economy to try to start a business that revolves around work I’ve always wanted to do.

Thanks for this post, April, and congratulations on your freelance successes.

Pamela Millican
Pamela Millican
8 years ago

Hi Beth

Have you tried using Emotional Freedom Techniques like tapping to uncover your blocks and moving through them? I am a trainer and Adv Practitioner in various energy methods and have seen phenomenal changes as a result of their application.

Just a thought 🙂
Kind regards Pam

Mrs. Money
Mrs. Money
10 years ago

I am the same way- I craft and make soap and I am so intimidated by the fact that there are so many other people that do it that I’m afraid to try to make a business out of either. Good luck with your ventures, and congratulations on your success so far!

Ames
Ames
10 years ago

Thanks April for a Knock Out article! I’m starting my list of things I’d like to do today.

Jonathan Frei -- OrdinaryTime
Jonathan Frei -- OrdinaryTime
10 years ago

There’s no reason to let what you think limit what you do. But in many cases, what I think is the only limit.

Tyler Tervooren
Tyler Tervooren
10 years ago

Posts like this are why I keep coming back to GRS. There is so much to personal finance and success beyond picking the right investments and saving at the right bank. April, thanks for the post. It’s inspiring to read about others becoming successful at something they weren’t sure they were capable of. That has to be a pretty common limiting belief and, judging by the comments above me,there are at least a few people reading that have the desire to make some big career changes but are still overcoming their fears. bon, Beth, Mrs. Money, Have you found ways… Read more »

Dyln
Dyln
10 years ago

What a great article! I just read Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing about a study done to see why women either didn’t go into computer science or why they dropped out. Most of it came from the belief that they weren’t good enough or that they thought they had to do nothing with their lives except for computing to be successful. For the few women who didn’t listen to the negative voices they found themselves to be quite successful at it. For me, it’s that perfectionist tick I have: if I can’t do it perfectly why even try. I… Read more »

Suzanne
Suzanne
10 years ago

For not that big a Dave Ramsey fan, I sure do quote him a lot… hmmm.. Anyway,

For those who are nervous about leaving a perfectly good job to start something new, I’ve heard Dave say that you should start doing it as a hobby. Learn the ropes, get clients, and once you hit the point where you are making at least 50% of what you will need, then you can make the leap and quit your day job. This method eliminates a huge amount of the risk, and gives you confidence that it will work.

KM @ Long-Distance Life
KM @ Long-Distance Life
10 years ago

Great article–and some great comments, too! Rob (#1), your comment about the conflicting “go for it”/”be careful” voices reminded me of those old cartoons with the angel and devil on your shoulder. 😀 I also really liked what Tyler (#8) and Suzanne (#10) said. Making small changes (and I love the term “fear snowball”) can be much less intimidating than the big leap. e.g. if you want to become an artist, rather than focusing on how hard it would be to try to sell a painting for $500, start out with the mindset that you’ll paint just for fun, then… Read more »

Oleg Mokhov
Oleg Mokhov
10 years ago

Hey April, Do what you really want by giving yourself permission to be awesome. Picture yourself doing what you’d want to do. Dreaming doesn’t cost you anything, so go to the edge. What would you REALLY want to do or be? This is the hardest (and easiest) step because most people can’t even picture themselves doing something, so they stop themselves at this step. Society and people around them telling them they can’t do it just reinforces the limiting belief. But if you just try to push past that and give it a shot, picturing yourself already doing what you’d… Read more »

Peggy
Peggy
10 years ago

This is certainly a timely article; I’ve been spending my morning figuring out what we will need to be able to take off for a sabbatical year.

Kevin M
Kevin M
10 years ago

Good advice April, I’m struggling with one of these beliefs myself and trying to set up a system to overcome it (and hopefully grow professionally or generate new opportunities from it.)

SecondhandMoon
SecondhandMoon
10 years ago

I just started reading GRS last week and I’ve been devouring the archives and checking the site daily for new content. This is an awesome post and a great example of the pragmatic motivational tone that I love about this blog. My husband became a freelance graphic and web designer this year after being laid off from his job. Everyone, from his professors in art school to other professionals he asked for advice, warned that freelance art of any kind is incredibly difficult to make a living at, and it should only be attempted as a side job unless you… Read more »

SecondhandMoon
SecondhandMoon
10 years ago

Oh, I just want to add that I’m in the process of evaluating a career change myself, and so this post is relevant to me from that perspective too. I’ve bookmarked it and I’m sure I’ll be referring to it (and some of the comments here) in the future for motivation!

chromacosmic
chromacosmic
10 years ago

“put on the breaks”………….YIKES…..brakes, not breaks

Piccolina
Piccolina
10 years ago

Thanks for this article! I love reading about how to take steps to follow your dreams! Great stuff. Keep ’em coming! 🙂

brian papa
brian papa
10 years ago

April, I found myself clapping several times while reading this (well written) post. 1) For a short while, I thought about real estate because my brother was doing it and making massive money and…well, you see the trap. I had absolutely no interest in it at all 2) I TOTALLY keep a board of all the supportive emails, etc that friends have written regarding my goals (in this case, finishing a kid’s book, I must have received 25 comments from friends who couldn’t wait to read a copy) 3)Decide to be a successful freelancer. Okay, this is your goal not… Read more »

Tomas Stonkus
Tomas Stonkus
10 years ago

Hey April: This is very timely and awesome article. I just realized that I have been subconsciously taking the steps that you recommend to eliminate limiting beliefs. The most effective way I found to break a limiting belief is by doing it or watching others do it. It seems that up a certain point everything is in a fog and seems very distant. Yet, it takes only one time to succeed. It takes one time to see your friend succeed to see that it is actually possible. It has been my experience that people do not trust other people. If… Read more »

Rob Bennett
Rob Bennett
10 years ago

Rob (#1), your comment about the conflicting “go for it”/”be careful” voices reminded me of those old cartoons with the angel and devil on your shoulder.

Sister Mary Elizabeth would be so proud of me!

Rob

ami | 40daystochange
ami | 40daystochange
10 years ago

What wonderful advice April! There are so many people who live within their limiting beliefs, rather than testing the boundaries and checking out the possibilities. Your story inspires us to look again and adjust our beliefs to make things happen. Very relevant and timely for me personally, thanks.

Kevin@OutOfYourRut
10 years ago

It also helps (tremendously!) to keep a long term perspective. Most of us have run into failure many times in life, which fuels the fire of negative thinking. Negative comments can start a fire, but negative experiences are what cement it in our minds. The key is to work on developing a positive direction and ignore the inevitable short term failures.

I’m not as certain the race goes to the swift so much as to the ones who stay in it focusing on the prize at the end.

(I’m still working on that race!)

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
10 years ago

The world is full of fearful people telling you what you can’t do. Ignore them. I do. People have told me I’d fail at plenty of things in the past. You know what this makes me do? Prove them wrong. I almost never fail at anything I try, and I know this from experience, not simply from narcissism. I can pretty much accomplish anything I want. The more things I try, the more confidence I’ve gained from succeeding. And I also think this attitude is related to the fact that my salary’s three times average, I live by the beach,… Read more »

Aja B.
Aja B.
10 years ago

I was just thinking about this the other day, as I prepare to take my small business to the next level. When I got started, I didn’t see myself as any sort of entrepreneur, and refused to even call it a business. Every small change I made, from registering it as a DBA to opening a bank account to doing negotiations was scary and new, and it seemed almost impossible to me at the time. Now I’m facing a new set of challenges, accepting credit card payments over the web, and reminding myself that once I go through this process… Read more »

E
E
10 years ago

April, here’s one for your Word doc: You are a treat. I have absolutely loved and been inspired by every single article you’ve written for GRS since you were hired. Keep ’em coming. As someone else mentioned, this is my very favorite type of article. The practical stuff is informative and useful, but the psychological stuff is eye-opening and empowering.

Interesting thing about limiting beliefs, I know all about them and of course I don’t have any. Right. I’ll be taking a closer look. 🙂

Clint
Clint
10 years ago

Now THIS is the kind of article I like to see. It is 100% true that your beliefs can limit you severely. How about this one: “I’m not good enough.” Or: “People like me don’t make much money.” Or: “I’ll never get out of debt.” Those are huge ones, and they’re ones I’ve been learning to eliminate lately. I hadn’t seen the review of “The Secret” before. I have a different (less “magical”) take on the Law of Attraction: 1. Your beliefs become your thoughts, which become your actions. If you believe you can earn wealth, your thoughts will lead… Read more »

Paul
Paul
10 years ago

Brilliant. Period.

Foxie || CarsxGirl
Foxie || CarsxGirl
10 years ago

I have such a love-hate feeling when it comes to these articles… I love them because I feel so inspired. I *can* make a living writing? Score! I can earn money taking pictures? Yes, please! It lets me know there are people out there doing what I would like to do…. Albeit, they’re usually in different fields. (Though I wouldn’t be opposed to a gig as a freelance finance writer, just the daily bit of it got to be too much for me. Too much of a good thing is indeed bad.) On the other hand, I hate them because… Read more »

Carla
Carla
10 years ago

I’m working to overcome the belief that I will go bankrupt over medical expenses before the age of 35 (I’m 30 now) or just in general. I guess I have a belief that I wont be able to take care of myself financially while having a chronic (and expensive) medical condition.

Family Man
Family Man
10 years ago

I agree. We all tend to be our own wort enemies. We hold ourselves back more that anyone lese int he world, and destory our own dreams. I am living that now, and trying to find the right way to get out of my own way.

Carrie from Carrie...On The Cheap
Carrie from Carrie...On The Cheap
10 years ago

April, This is a great article. J.D. chose wisely for his staff writers… 🙂 The point you make about making a move is really key to ridding yourself of those limiting beliefs. I’ve been an Accountant for 4 years and never thought I could pass the CPA Exam. However, in January of this year, I paid $500 for the first two exams which forced me to start preparing for the tests. I took and passed two tests this year. I’m on my way to passing the last two and just can’t believe I sat around for four years thinking I… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
10 years ago

@ Clint: Whoppers and pork rinds? LOL! @ Carrie: YES. Putting down money does tend to motivate … I put money into a personal training certification and ballroom dance teacher training … no refunds means, don’t waste it! Study! Well done on the CPA exam. April, I agree you are a great asset to GRS. Well observed about saving the little affirmations … when I get an email from a client complimenting my skills or professionalism, I save it for reassurance on the days when I’m feeling less than proficient/successful. I save complimentary notes from my bosses at my day… Read more »

MD2 Media
MD2 Media
10 years ago

Wow!! From personal experience I must say that if I had to limit myself based on other peoples opinions of my decisions, I too would be miserable and stagnant. I’ve traveled the world and continue to maintain a decent living by pursuing my goals independent of what other people feel I should be doing. Think & Grow Rich! Most wealthy people that I know are doing things that they love and to me that is the premise of understanding what you should follow in order to become successful. Money doesn’t qualify you for such, it’s the ambitious motivation that you… Read more »

E
E
10 years ago

@ Clint, totally, 100% agree.

The part The Secret and similar leave out or gloss over is the ACTION. You get nothing without it.

@ Foxie, your “actions” might include finding the answers to those questions; look for a mentor who can guide you; find out what it would take to come up with $500 for a camera and whether it’s worth it to you. “I don’t know” is also a limiting belief. 😉

Bob43
Bob43
10 years ago

If you like this post, you should definitely also read the War Of Art by Steven Pressfield which exactly tackles this subject which he calls: Resistance.
Excellent book to read!

MARIO
MARIO
10 years ago

A little bit over a year ago, we moved from California to Maryland. It wasn’t easy to give up a steady job that I really liked, especially during an economy that was on a downturn. But I had to choose between a career and dealing with an unhappy spouse. So we moved and I was unemployed for about 3 months. I was getting worried and depressed. Been on every online job search service, placement agencies, not to mention countless times I had to re-write my resumes thinking it must’ve been the way it looked, but nothing seemed to work. I… Read more »

Piccolina
Piccolina
10 years ago

Thanks for the book recommendation, Bob43!

Dr Dean
Dr Dean
10 years ago

Thoughtful post! All of your points are valid. In my case, I had been writing a personal finance book for nurses for over three years in my spare time. I had put it aside for over a year. I finally got up the nerve to call a published author who lives in my community. His enthusiasm and encouragement about my work motivated me to finish the manuscript. He even agreed to edit it and help me to develop a speaking business. I have not given up my full time job, but certainly can see that possibility in the future. So… Read more »

Patty - Why Not Start Now?
Patty - Why Not Start Now?
10 years ago

Great article! I had to overcome some limiting beliefs to start my business, but once it was going I realized that the limiting beliefs were really there to keep me safe. They had a positive intent, but they were trying to be TOO helpful. So I learned a lot from that, especially about how to be in a better relationship with my fears. So now when I work with clients who want to step out and take a risk, I ask them to try to understand what the fear wants for them. Usually it’s something like protection, comfort, etc. And… Read more »

Diana
Diana
10 years ago

I think we all have a fear of doing something we really want. I have started working on my own blog, nothing financially related. I’ve always wanted to work with dogs, so I am working at that goal on the side. Sometimes things are discouraging, but I think like the article said to keep going no matter what others say. They always say we learn from our mistakes, so you can’t learn if you aren’t making mistakes. It’s interesting how you find things to relate to what your going through at the right time.

April
April
10 years ago

@Dyln S–On perfectionism, there’s a quote I love that says “if at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.” I think many people, myself included, struggle with making a start because of a fear of not doing something perfectly. For me, finding mentors was key (yet difficult because I’m a bit of an introvert).

David/Yourfinances101
David/Yourfinances101
10 years ago

Put simply, you can accomplish anything that you put your mind to. That is no exaggeration. Anything!

ldk
ldk
10 years ago

outstanding post, April…much success to you.

Mike
Mike
10 years ago

Great and timely post April! My brother and I have recently been working on a couple of ideas on how to get a social enterprise up and running so that we can retire from our current j.o.b.s and really get to “work”. Funny thing is that while I’ve heard advice similar to yours on limiting beliefs, throughout our brainstorming sessions when we would come up with strategies I would just catch myself sometimes thinking that well, a particular approach wouldn’t work, it would be too hard, or we would face more competition, etc. It’s so stealthy sometimes! The limiting belief!… Read more »

Financial Samurai
Financial Samurai
10 years ago

No limits, no rules! Everybody starts off pretty much poor and useless. It’s what you want to make of your life.

Michael Harr @ TodayForward
Michael Harr @ TodayForward
10 years ago

Nice work! As an aside, journalism is an increasingly entrepreneurial endeavor. With the significant reduction of the labor force in local newspapers alone, there are a great many un- or under-employed journalists out there. There was an article I ran across on SeekingAlpha (maybe) that discussed this topic. It’s great that you were bold enough to break free. The next step is to continue your career and continually look for ways to make a better income/lifestyle for yourself. I ran across a number of personal finance journalists out at TechCrunch50 this year and a group of them put their heads… Read more »

Jp
Jp
10 years ago

Awesome post! I must admit I have a lot of limiting thoughts and they are indeed…limiting. Perhaps fear of the unknown and thinking too much is my greatest limiting factor.

J.D. Meier
J.D. Meier
10 years ago

Good pragmatic insight. I think mentors really are the short-cuts in life. The other key is confidence before competence … it’s confidence that gets over the humps.

jonasaberg
jonasaberg
10 years ago

“Once you light the fire…”

That’s true as long as it’s only yourself you’re dealing with. I’ve had a dream of starting a “hairmetal” coverband for quite some time. I recently bit the bullet and started posting wanted ads. It felt good to take those first steps but if I don’t find people to play with I can’t do much more.
So there are definately limitations but the general idea is good and I agree with it.

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